Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze

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Born: August 30, 1923, Daphne, Ala
Baptized in Catholic Church: December 5, 1948
Ordained a Priest: May 7, 1959
Ordained a Bishop: January 28, 1973
Auxiliary of Natchez-Jackson: – 1973-1977
Named First Bishop of Biloxi: March 8, 1977
Installed: June 6, 1977
Retired: June 6, 2001

In 1973, Joseph Lawson Howze was named Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson.

The Catholic Foundation was established by Bishop Brunini and 23 Catholic leaders from throughout the Diocese in 1973 to provide for the future financial security of parishes, schools, and other organizations under the auspices of the Diocese.

In 1977, the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson was divided to become the Diocese of Jackson, comprised of the northern 65 counties of the state, and the Diocese of Biloxi, made up of the southeastern most 17 counties of Mississippi. At that time, Bishop Howze became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Biloxi.

Bishop Joseph Nunzio Latino

Bishop Latino
Bishop Joseph Nunzio Latino

Born: Oct. 21, 1937
Ordained a Priest for New Orleans: May 25, 1963
Ordained a Bishop: March 3, 2003
Died: May 28, 2021
Episcopal Motto: That All May Be One
Bishop Joseph N. Latino, came to Mississippi from the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in Louisiana. When it was established, our diocese was placed under the care of the Diocese of New Orleans. Bishop Latino is our first native born New Orleanian to serve as our bishop.

Bishop Latino was the 10th Bishop of Jackson. A native of New Orleans, Bishop Latino was born on Oct. 21, 1937. He was the son of John Peter Latino and Theresa Rizzuto Latino. After completing his seminary studies and training at St. Joseph College and Seminary in St. Benedict, La., and Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Bishop Latino was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans by Archbishop John Cody in St. Louis Cathedral on May 25, 1963.

During his priesthood, Bishop Latino served in parishes in New Orleans, Metairie, Houma and Thibodaux. When the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was established in 1977, he remained a part of the new diocese and served in many capacities there including: rector of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, defender of the bond, chancellor, and Vicar General. In 1983 Pope John Paul II named him a Prelate of Honor with the title of monsignor.

He was appointed 10th Bishop of Jackson on Jan. 3, 2003; and was ordained a bishop and installed on March 7, 2003 in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson. He retired on Dec. 12, 2013.

Bishop Latino devoted his ministry as bishop to fostering Gospel-based social justice initiatives, lay leadership, and vocations. During his tenure the office for Protection of Children was established to help insure a safe environment for children in our churches, schools and communities. Under his leadership the church implemented the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

In his retirement he continued to minister through quiet prayer and reflection along with the sharing of his wisdom gained from his 59 years of priestly service and his 83 years of life in Christ.


Bishop William Russell Houck

Bishop Houck
Bishop William Russell Houck

Born: June 26, 1926
Ordained a Priest for Mobile: May 19, 1951
Ordained a Bishop: May 27, 1979
Installed: June 6, 1984
Retired: Jan. 3, 2003
Died: March 9, 2016
Episcopal Motto: Proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord

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Bishop William R. Houck became bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson in 1979 when he was ordained by Pope – now Saint – John Paul II on May 27, at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.  He served as Auxiliary Bishop to Bishop Joseph B. Brunini from 1979-1984.  He was installed as the ninth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson on June 5, 1984.

Bishop Houck was born on June 26, 1926 in Mobile, Alabama. He died on March 9, 2016 at the age of 89.  He was the son of William R. and Mildred Blanchard Houck.  He earned his S.T.L. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland and his Master’s Degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington.  He was ordained a priest on May 19, 1951 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, by Bishop Thomas J. Toolen.

Bishop Houck was an educator. He held teaching and school administrative positions in Pensacola, Florida (1951-57) and in Birmingham, Alabama (1957-79) with the exception of 1969-70, when he was Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. He was high school principal, Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education for the Diocese of Birmingham during the years of 1957-79. He served as Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Birmingham from 1974-79.

Bishop Houck was presently a member of the Board of Governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, and the Board of Hospice Ministries, Inc.

Bishop Houck was a past board member of the International Liaison: U.S. Catholic Coordinating Committee for Lay Volunteer Ministry, the American Board of Catholic Missions Committee of the NCCB, and the Mississippi Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality. He was also a member of the Southern Ecumenical Coalition on Maternal and Infant Health, and President of Ecumenical Health Care Organization for Whispering Pines.

He was a past president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.  He was also active in the National Catholic Education Association, Southern Association of Independent Schools and Accreditation of American Schools in Latin America.

Bishop Houck also served as Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization, and was a member of the Committee on Laity, the Domestic Policy Committee on Peace and Justice, and Conference Nominations Committee.

Under his chairmanship, the Committee on Evangelization developed Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States. This document was issued in 1992 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.

In May 2001 Bishop Houck celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. In September of that year, at the request of Cardinal Francis George, Pope John Paul appointed him president of the Catholic Church Extension Society in Chicago.

On January 3, 2003, Pope John Paul accepted Bishop Houck’s resignation as Bishop of Jackson and appointed Msgr. Joseph Latino as the 10th Bishop of Jackson. Bishop Houck continued to serve as president of Catholic Extension until 2007, when he retired and moved back to Jackson from Chicago.

Bishop Houck marked 25 years as a bishop in 2004, and 60 years as a priest in 2011. He remained active in church ministry up to his last days.

Bishop Joseph Bernard Brunini

Bishop Joseph Bernard Brunini
Born: July 24, 1909 – Vicksburg
Ordained a Priest for Natchez: Dec. 5, 1933
Ordained a Bishop: Jan. 29, 1957
Apostolic Administrator for Natchez-Jackson: July 11, 1966
Installed: Jan. 29, 1968
Retired: Jan. 24, 1984
Died: Jan. 7, 1996
Episcopal Motto: God and Neighbor

In 1967, Joseph Bernard Brunini was named eighth Bishop of the Diocese and was installed the following year at St. Peter Co-Cathedral in Jackson, having been appointed Auxiliary Bishop in 1957 by Pope Pius XII. Bishop Brunini is our only native Mississippi vocation to serve as bishop in our 175 year history.

In 1969, Hurricane Camille struck the Gulf Coast, destroying St. Paul Church in Pass Christian, St. Thomas Church in Long Beach, and St. Clare Church in Waveland, and extensively damaging other church structures. This challenge was one of many that Bishop Brunini undertook with strength and determination.

His administration was quite diverse — implementation of Vatican II, the continuing Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War.

He oversaw peaceful school desegregation in Mississippi’s Catholic schools, and as a strong leader addressing such issues as ecumenism, evangelization, poverty, and social justice, Bishop Brunini helped form the interfaith Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference in 1970 and served as its first chairman.

Bishop Richard Oliver Gerow

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Born: May 3, 1885 – Mobile
Ordained a Priest for Mobile: June 5, 1909
Ordained a Bishop: Oct. 15, 1924
Retired: 1966 from active ministry
Died: Dec. 20, 1976
Episcopal Motto: In You, O Lord, I Have Hoped

Father Richard Oliver Gerow of Mobile was appointed the seventh Bishop of Natchez by Pope Pius XI. He served for 42 years and saw a tremendous growth in the Catholic Church in Mississippi. Priests grew in number from 63 to 222, and churches increased from 108 to 159.

His administration included the years of the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, Great Depression, World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Civil Rights Movement, including the tragic murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson.

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Bishop Gerow oversaw the renovation of the cathedral sanctuary in celebration of the centennial of the Diocese in 1937. He was especially interested in ecumenism and is remembered for his Christian stand in the first days of school integration. He was a consummate historian and because of him we have a vast diocesan archive that is indexed in great detail. He was also an avid photographer and documented many church activities and events throughout the Diocese.

In 1948, the diocesan offices were moved to Jackson from Natchez.=

In 1957 the diocese was renamed the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson. That same year, Joseph Bernard Brunini was ordained a Bishop and named Auxiliary Bishop of Natchez-Jackson, with St. Peter the Apostle Church being elevated to Co-Cathedral of the Diocese.

Bishop Brunini attended all of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council in Rome beginning under Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962, and closing under Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965.

Bishop Gerow was the first bishop to retire in office in 1966.

Bishop John Edward Gunn, SM

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Born: March 15, 1863 – County Tyrone, Ireland
Ordained a Priest: Feb. 2, 1890
Ordained a Bishop: Aug. 29, 1911
Died: Feb. 19, 1924
Episcopal Motto: Show Thyself A Mother

Father John Gunn, a Marist priest, was appointed the sixth Bishop of Natchez by Pope Pius X in 1911.

Bishop Gunn was known as a brilliant orator and for having tremendous energy. He cultivated the diocese’s relationship with Catholic Extension to help in the building of chapels throughout the state.

He also helped found St. Augustine Seminary with the Society of the Divine Word in Bay St. Louis for the formation of African American clergy in 1923.

By the time of his death in 1924, almost every Catholic in Mississippi was able to reach one of these chapels for Mass at least once a month. Catholic churches grew from 75 to 149 during his administration, and Catholics grew in number from 17,000 to more than 31,000.

Bishop Gunn’s 13 years of service to the Diocese were marked by the difficult four years of the first World War and the ravages of Spanish influenza. The Bishop believed strongly in service to one’s country. “In life and death I am proud of three things: my Irish birth, my Catholic faith, and my American citizenship,” he said. “I tried to translate my love for all three into service and sacrifice,” he wrote in his will.

Bishop Gunn died in New Orleans in 1924 and is buried beside his fellow Irishman Bishop Thomas Heslin on Catholic Hill in the Natchez City Cemetery.

In his will he wrote, “I believe in God. I believe all He has said because He said it and because His infallible Church heard Him and told me what He said. I love Him with my whole heart and soul and strength and for His sake I love others.”

Bishop Thomas Heslin

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Born: April 1847 – County Longford, Ireland
Ordained a Priest for New Orleans: Sept. 18, 1869
Ordained a Bishop: June 18, 1889
Died: Feb. 22, 1911
Episcopal Motto: Jesus and Mary
Father Thomas Heslin, a pastor in New Orleans, was named the fifth Bishop of the diocese by Pope Leo XIII.

One of Bishop Heslin’s major initiatives was to evangelize and establish missions among African Americans. Bishop Heslin invited the Society of St. Joseph and the Society of the Divine Word to staff missions among black Mississippians.

In 1890 Holy Family Parish in Natchez was established as the first parish in the diocese dedicated to ministering in the African American community.

Mother Katharine Drexel was instrumental in building a school for the children of Holy Family in Natchez.

Among other churches established during Bishop Heslin’s tenure were Mary Immaculata in Merigold and Holy Ghost in Jackson.

Heslin ShieldDuring Bishop Heslin’s tenure, Father Meerschaert , pastor and vicar general, left to become bishop of the Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Father Patrick Hayden was named pastor at St. Mary in Natchez.

An addition was built to the presbytery and marble side altars were installed in the cathedral.

Bishop Heslin died after 22 years of service to the Diocese and was buried on Catholic Hill in the Natchez City Cemetery.

Bishop R. O. Gerow, writing in Catholicity in Mississippi, “Bishop Heslin was a man of prayer and deep, solid piety. Arising at an early hour each morning he spent the greater portion of an hour before the Blessed Sacrament in preparation for his Mass. . . .But in all his actions the honor and glory of God was his first thought.”

Bishop Francis August Janssens

Born: Oct. 17, 1843 – Holland
Ordained a Priest for Richmond: Dec. 21, 1867
Ordained a Bishop: May 1, 1881
Archbishop of New Orleans: Aug. 7, 1888
Died: June 9, 1897
Episcopal Motto: God Is My Strength

Francis August Janssens was appointed the fourth Bishop of Natchez in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII.

During his administration he established a mission among the Choctaws at Tucker, creating a school staffed by three Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Charity began teaching African-American children in the original presbytery during this time. Bishop Janssens also dedicated St. Joseph School during his tenure.

Bishop Janssens focused on the completion of the cathedral, contracting for the building of the sacristy and installing a pipe organ. He replaced the picket fence with an iron fence. He hired artist A. Biorci to paint the Crucifixion over the main altar. With the completion of the cathedral and the retiring of its debt, the cathedral was consecrated on September 19, 1886. The following year, New Stations of the Cross and memorial windows were installed and a contract was let to fresco the interior.

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In 1877, Father Grignon, after 37 years of service under three bishops, died, and Father Theophile Meerschaert was appointed vicar general. Father Meerschaert would later be named the first Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma.

In 1888, after seven years in Mississippi, Bishop Janssens was transferred to New Orleans to become Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. During his tenure, the diocese grew in mission churches, priests, and Catholics. Catholic education was a hallmark of his time in Mississippi. When he arrived in 1881, there were 15 schools; when he left for New Orleans seven years later, there were 26.

Bishop William Henry Elder

Born: March 22, 1819 – Baltimore
Ordained a Priest: March 29, 1846
Ordained a Bishop: May 3, 1857
Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati – Jan. 30, 1880
Died: Oct. 31, 1904
Episcopal Motto: Faith Conquers the World

William Henry Elder, born in Baltimore, was ordained the third Bishop of Natchez in 1857. One of his first actions was to appoint Father Mathurin Grignon vicar general of the Diocese. He was a capable and energetic administrator who established a strong foundation on which the modern diocese was built.

Father Grignon, who also served as pastor of the cathedral, had come to Natchez to teach in the school established by Bishop Chanche. It was he who administered the last sacraments to Bishop Van de Velde.

Wanting to make a good impression on Bishop Elder, Father Grignon, the Sisters of Charity, and parishioners worked to improve the still unfinished interior of the cathedral, completing the woodwork and windows. By 1859, the task was completed.

Bishop Elder entrusted the running of the cathedral parish to Father Grignon while he traveled throughout the large Diocese to assist struggling parishes. At the same time, St. Mary Cathedral was also assisting missions attached to it in Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Cedar Creek, Rodney, Fayette, Meadville, and Woodville.

D’Evereux Hall, an orphanage for boys, was opened in Natchez.

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During Bishop Elder’s administration, the Civil War consumed the nation in violence and bloodshed for four years. Known as a saintly and scholarly man, Bishop Elder wrote to his father on the eve of the Civil War: “It is hard to tell what is to be the fate of the country. I have not enough of political sagacity to see what will be the course of events, nor what would be the fruit of the remedies proposed. . . . We can all unite in praying to God to guide and protect us.” Bishop Elder ministered to soldiers and celebrated Mass for the wounded throughout the war. He also ministered to a community of freedmen formed in Natchez by slaves who fled after the city was occupied in 1863 by federal troops.

Under Union occupation, the Bishop was expelled from Natchez and imprisoned in Vidalia, Louisiana, for refusing to pray for the United States government. Although the war ended in 1865, Union troops remained in Natchez until 1876.

Expanding their educational ministry in the Diocese, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart opened a school for boys in Natchez in 1865.

During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, the Bishop personally ministered to victims and contracted the disease himself. He survived, but six diocesan priests were among the many who perished.

Bishop Elder was named Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1880 and would later become Archbishop there. When he arrived in Mississippi there were nine priests, 11 churches, three educational institutions, one orphanage, and a Catholic population of 10,000.

When he left Mississippi, there were 19 priests, 42 churches, 12 schools for white children, three schools for black children, and a Catholic population of 12,500. Among the parishes established during this time was St. Alphonsus in McComb.